Alice Waters Makes Salad Dressing at My House

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When I had Alice Waters over to my house for dinner, there was just one thing I wanted from her: to learn how to make real restaurant-style salad dressing the way she makes it. I’d eaten her salads before and all I can say is YUM. I needed to know the secret!

I was thrilled with my salad’s greens, since my friend George DeVault, one of the best farmers I know, had offered to pick them that day at the peak of flavor, and deliver them to my office so I had them fresh for the evening. Thanks, George!

Alice was totally game for making the dressing, so I gathered the tools she asked for: a mortar and pestle, garlic, salt, red wine vinegar (that’s my girl!), and fresh-ground pepper. And olive oil, of course.

I shot a video with my phone, but it’s so rough that I can’t bear to share it, so I’m going to walk you through the process. There are no measurements here, just taste and feel.

1. Peel a clove of garlic and mash it, adding some coarse salt, till the garlic is CREAMY. I’d never seen that before. The garlic literally looked like mayonnaise. She then took a little bit out with a spoon, in case there was too much garlic (she later added it back in).

2. Then she added the red wine vinegar. I had Fleischmann’s certified-organic and unfiltered vinegar and she liked it. How do I know that? She literally tasted it before she added it and said, “Oh, that’s good!”

3. She added some fresh-ground pepper and then mixed this up with her fingers, tasting with her fingers (adding a bit more salt) until it tasted right.

4. We let this sit while we ate dinner, since in France and at our house the salad always comes AFTER the main course.

5. After the main course, we went back to making dressing and she added the olive oil. My organic olive oil was OK for her, but she really prefers an olive oil that tastes more olive-y. Frankly, so do I, but it’s hard to get in the supermarket in PA. She recommended Eataly in NY, which I do sometimes shop at. She commented that many people put too much olive oil in their dressing—I believe I’ve been guilty of that.

6. She stirred the dressing all up with a spoon and then poured a bit of it onto the salad and tossed it gently with her hands for a good minute, tasting (with her hands)—adding more salt, adding more dressing—until it was just right.

And just right it was!


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14 Responses to Alice Waters Makes Salad Dressing at My House

  1. Lacy September 25, 2013 at 6:20 am #

    Maria, what a fun post! Can you guestimate how much olive oil Alice used? I learned to make this dressing in France, and it is always 3 to 1 oil to vinegar, and indeed, when I have tried 2 to 1, it is too vinegary. I also learned that if you discard the small bit at the very stem of the garlic clove, just flick it away with your knife, you won’t have garlic breath, but will get all the flavor of the miraculous stuff!

  2. maria (farm country kitchen) September 25, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    If I could guess it would be 2 and 1/2 or possibly 3 to 1. But then she dressed the salad very lightly so there was dressing left over for at least two more salads.

  3. Peter September 25, 2013 at 8:01 am #

    I hope she washed her hands, first. Lots of finger-licking going on here!

  4. maria (farm country kitchen) September 25, 2013 at 8:04 am #

    She did not wash her hands, which is fine because vinegar is a disinfectant and also I was honored to have some of her microbiota mixed into our microbiota and inoculate all of us with some chefery good germs.

  5. Sue September 25, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    What great fun to watch a virtuoso at work!

  6. Cindy September 25, 2013 at 9:55 am #

    Great story, thanks for sharing!!! So fun to get an insight to the process behind the scenes.

  7. Amanda September 25, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    Yay for DeVault salad greens! And I love that you said you were honored to share some her microbiota because that is exactly what I thought when I read your post and probably never would have said to anyone out loud!

  8. kerry surface September 25, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    that’s an awesome story…i would not have cared at all that she used her hands as i’ve always heard they are the best tools in the kitchen!!!! and it is ALICE WATERS!

  9. Patty September 25, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

    How fun! …and, you’re so cute! Wish that I had also been there to witness the evening with two amazing women…and, me too, of course! Wonderful post…

  10. Brooke September 25, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    That salad dressing sounds amazing – and perfect timing see as though us here in Oz are moving into summer. will have to try it at our next bbq gathering

  11. Suzanne September 28, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    The dressing sounds delicious. If you are ever short on time and want a truly healthy bottled salad dressing check out TessaMae’s dressings. They come in yummy varieties and only contain organic EVOO, lemon juice and a some assorted spices. It’s available at Whole Foods and probably on their site:

  12. Gina October 2, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    I love the simplicity of the dressing. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Janne October 3, 2013 at 7:53 am #

    What a great story! I too would have been thrilled and in awe if Alice Waters was in my kitchen. The best chefs I know use their hands to touch, mix and taste their food; it’s that close connection that enables them to produce incredible results from simple ingredients.

  14. simone September 2, 2015 at 10:47 am #

    Reading about your salad dressing, of Alice Walters, yes indeed a dressing of France, as I am french and a chef, your right on with the exception I use about 1/2 tsp grey poupon mustard added to the dressing in making, 3 to 1 using wine vinegar, olive oil, of course the garlic and salt and pepper, using little garlic as takes away the flavor and yes salad is served in France and at my house and at the establishment I cook for I use this as the house dressing Bon apitite Simone

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